by Holly Beilin
If you’re a startup founder, you may be thinking, “I don’t have time for press…”
As the leader of a publication focused on startups and entrepreneurs in the Southeast, I can’t count the number of times I have talked to a high-potential founder who is excited to be interviewed, but has never been proactive in reaching out.
I get it, you’re busy. Building a company is a serious commitment.
But, have you made time to acquire customers? To talk to potential investors? How about to learn as much as you can about your industry and market, and demonstrate that you are an expert?
Every founder should be constantly working on some, or all, of the above in the pursuit of building a company.
And generating organic media — colloquially, “getting press” — has the effect of helping with every one of the tasks above.
Media can be a strong sales driver. A report from tech-focused public relations agency AR|PR shows that website traffic from media coverage outperforms average traffic by a full 56 percent over paid search.
The average site session duration is longer, and bounce rates lower, when consumers find a company from press coverage, says the report. And, contrary to those who say the wire is dead, traffic from press releases outperforms even media hits.
The data says that potential customers will likely Google your product or business, and since investors are people too (yes, really), they are just as likely to pay attention to media coverage, especially from a publication they regularly read and trust.
So, it’s worth it for founders to spend some time developing a media strategy. But for early-stage entrepreneurs, that’s a wide-open mandate.
Where do you start? Who can help? And, as with everything else that keeps you up at night, how much will this cost?
Get focused and aim small
I’m not going to waste your time explaining why a young, early-stage company will most likely not get covered by the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. If you’re realistic about where you’re at, that would be the press equivalent of going straight to SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son.
But I do often hear founders bemoaning the fact that startup-focused publications like TechCrunch or VentureBeat haven’t given them digital ink. While this can be frustrating, it shouldn’t turn you off media altogether.
Firstly, while being a founder is no doubt one of the most challenging roles a person can take on, know that being a journalist in today’s news environment is also not easy.
There are thousands of startups building interesting products all over the country. It is the journalist’s job to discern which of these young companies are compelling and developed enough to warrant coverage, often with the high pressure of deadlines and an increasingly-frenetic news cycle.
Reporters at national startup publications are usually based in Silicon Valley or New York and are tasked with covering the rest of the country remotely. Moreover, they are usually operating with far less information than, say, investors, since startups often don’t divulge proprietary product or financial information.
Don’t be offended, then, when your initial emails to TechCrunch or Fortune are not returned. Instead, focus on lower-hanging fruit to engage a relevant audience and provide value.
Seek out publications that cover a specific niche your company fits into. That can be a regional focus, like us at Hypepotamus, Technical.ly (concentrated in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic), or Silicon Prairie News (Midwest-focused).
Other good options are industry-specific or trade publications. MobiHealthNews focuses solely on digital health. FreightWaves covers the shipping, freight, and logistics industries. CRETech is all about innovation affecting the real estate market.
Not only do these media outlets boost SEO and attract the attention of investors, inclusion in them also establishes you as a thought leader with industry insiders.
The next time you reach out to TechCrunch with a funding announcement, an article in one of these niche publications may very well tip them over the edge in writing about you.
How to begin
Start with the who and the why: who do you want to reach with a media hit, and what is your desired outcome? These two questions will determine the most important things you need to nail down: your pitch and publication.
Let’s say your primary goal is to reach investors and generate interest in an open funding round. It would behoove you to research the industry publications that investors in your vertical read, as well as finance-heavy publications such as Fortune and Forbes.
Once you’ve identified target publications, hone in on a pitch. Know that when reporters read a pitch, they are thinking far beyond the initial email.
First on their mind: is this company or founder for real? Establish credibility upfront by including a short synopsis of your bio, a website link, and any proof points that show your startup won’t disappear before they even publish the story.
The reporter’s mind will then go to the ‘hook’, or the surprising, emotional, or impactful thing that grabs readers’ attention. The reporter will have to sell your story to a wide audience, in a news environment where attention is scarce.
Help them by painting a picture of what is most interesting about your business. Describe the pain point you’re solving and how it affects customers. Share how the idea came to you from firsthand experience, or why your company is unique in its approach to addressing the market.
A good pitch is a highly personalized message to craft, and unfortunately there isn’t a neat formula for the perfect one. I can, however, offer a few tips and suggestions:
- Be prepared. Before you pitch, actually READ the reporter’s work. Make sure you’re contacting the right person and that they haven’t already covered the exact topic you’re pitching. Heck, maybe even throw in a compliment about a recent story.
- Be timely. A platform that predicts extreme weather events is certainly interesting, but it becomes a lot more relevant in the context of impending hurricane season. What is happening in the world that you can take advantage of?
- Be useful. If you can’t think of a timely plug, you can always offer yourself as a resource. Building a blockchain company? Lots of reporters are writing about blockchain, and not all of them fully understand it. Offer to talk on or off the record to help a reporter out, and you may find yourself quoted.
- Be reachable. Don’t shoot off a pitch about your funding round that closed today and then head to an island vacation to celebrate. If you’re pitching news, make sure you respond promptly with the information a reporter requests — or you might find they’ve quickly moved on.
- And last but not least, be professional! If your pitch is turned down, respond politely. If a reporter wants to change the angle and asks for different information, be helpful. A good rule of thumb is to treat your interactions with reporters the same way you would potential investors — with goodwill, enthusiasm, and above all, respect.
Just like everything else in startup world, it’s best to treat your first efforts at pitching as a learning experience. Ask for lots of advice, don’t be afraid to fail, and know that it will get easier. Do put the time in, though, because even a seemingly-small press hit can have big upside.
Holly Beilin is the Editor in Chief of Hypepotamus, the go-to source of startup and technology news, interviews, events, job listings, and resources in the Southeast. Before Hypepotamus, Beilin has spent two years at one of Atlanta’s most-esteemed health tech companies, Sharecare. As its Manager of Social Content and Brand Communications, she helped craft the messaging of Sharecare and its many recent acquisitions. Prior to this role, she utilized her communication skills at the Renaissance Computing Institute, the White House, and the U.S. Senate.